by K.M. Zahrt
Happy Labor Day!
A brief look into the holiday’s history (taken from “Labor Day intention still holds meaning” published by Tri-Parish Times & Business News on August 30, 2012): “By 1894, Labor Day, on the first Monday of September, became a federally recognized holiday. […] It became a national day-off when commerce was placed on hold while families and friends enjoyed, for the most part, a three-day weekend and unofficial close to the summer season. After Labor Day, students began their school year and workers headed back to factories, fields and shops–already planning ahead to the next extended break on Thanksgiving. In time, retail business saw Labor Day as an opportunity to capitalize on so many people being away from work.”
I would venture to guess that the history of this day doesn’t surprise you, which is all well and good: an opportunity for family and friends to enjoy a long weekend and one last chance to celebrate the summer. Unfortunately, here comes a big hairy “but.” But let us not be ignorant. Essentially, the holiday was started as a carrot before the horse. It was a small way for the ruling class to, without really affecting long-term productivity, drum up good spirits among the working class before driving them back to labor en masse.
The happy-go-lucky description above recognizes but treads ever-so-lightly on the underlying idea, which when translated looks like this: “We just need to get the workers happy enough to get them through to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving will keep them happy until Christmas, and so on…” And you know how this story ends all too well. “Bonus! We can capitalize on the time the workers have off by selling them stuff. Let the sales commence!”
Again, that probably doesn’t surprise you. What might surprise you, however, is that there’s nothing more to Labor Day than that. I’m going to modify a definition that history professor Howard Zinn used to describe propaganda and war to define propaganda and holidays in this context: “It must persuade young people, and their families, that though they may [work hard] that it is done for the common good, for a noble cause, for democracy, for liberty, for God, for the country” (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress p.190).
So, to my ultimate point, don’t worry. There’s no need to get emotional or patriotic about today. You have no obligations. It’s your day. Do with it as you wish. Even if you want to take advantage of a sale, I won’t judge you for that. Because tomorrow, after all, it’s back to work until Thanksgiving!